By a Nose

Jockeys wearing academic regalia racing on horseback toward "Top Ranked University" finish line

I am not going to change our methods of calculation just in order to try and achieve a ranking higher than another institution.

—Frank Alexander, Interim Dean of the Law School and Professor of Law

Vol. 8 No. 2
October/November 2005

Return to Contents

By A Nose
Jockeying in the Rankings Race

The Current Standings

Whither the NRC Study?

"I am not going to change our methods of calculation just in order to try and achieve a ranking higher than another institution."

"Part of the reason educational reputation is so important is because people—students, faculty, and administrators—derive much of their status from the status of their institution."

Graduate School and College Excellence
Does research reputation influence undergraduate rankings?

Peer Scorings and Rankings of Colleges and Graduate Programs and Research


The “Lecture Track” Reconsidered
Professional identity and aspiration among non-tenure-path faculty

Tales from the Lecture Track: Kristin Wendland, Music

Tales from the Lecture Track: Sheila Tefft, Journalism

Virtue and the Stewardship
of Academic Freedom

Reflections on ambition, conversation, and community



Academic Exchange:
What is your take on the law school’s drop from twenty-third to thirty-second this year in the U.S. News ranking?

Frank Alexander:
The drop was completely unexpected, and it was dramatic. There are number of schools that are very tightly grouped in this range, so a small change in any of the twenty categories makes a huge difference. Over the years other schools have similar drops. Schools that were ahead of us, like the University of North Carolina, dropped ten places in one year in 1999. That was due in part to the fact that they had a very large bumper year of students entering the school, combined with an unusually large number of retirements and departures from the faculty. Its faculty-student ratio in one year changed significantly. Yes, we did drop significantly this past year. A portion of the drop is attributable to inaccurate data that was submitted initially. Correct data was submitted at a later date but the rankings were not recalculated by U.S. News. We can only guess the aggregate impact of this.

AE: Do you watch how data such as the per-student expenditures are calculated at other law schools for U.S. News?

FA: We do our best to submit the most accurate data we can. It is tough to get into the game of
comparing ourselves to other schools and how they are submitting their data. Very few schools have identical accounting procedures, particularly as you go from public to private universities. The direct and indirect costs become quite difficult to calculate. No, I am not going to change our methods of calculation just in order to try to achieve a ranking higher than another institution. We will have to rely in part on the integrity of the entities such as U.S. News or others who do rankings to realize the gaming that’s going on by different institutions.

AE: So you think the burden of responsibility rests with the ranking entities?

FA: I think the primary responsibility for the integrity of the rankings rests on those who are collecting the data and publishing the rankings. Instances of gamesmanship in the process only undercut the integrity of the rankings. So while each individual school should be concerned, actually it’s the publishers of the data that have the greatest to lose by realizing that data is highly manipulable.

AE: Has the U.S. News ranking affected the law school’s admissions?

FA: I expected to see one because of the timing, but in fact we saw no impact. In fact, we are increasing slightly the size of our interim class this year—210 to 230 students. And our applicant pool and our yield are just as strong as they were a year ago. I think people are selecting their schools on criteria more than just a ranking. In my own experience, people use those rankings and publications to determine the schools to which they are going to apply, but once they are admitted, they don’t use them to determine which school they are going to attend.

AE: Do the rankings have any impact on your decisions about resources?

FA: It certainly is a part of our decision-making because we’re always trying to determine the standard for quality. Where we see significant deviance from peer institutions it does send up a flag. We are aware of our relatively low alumni participation both in terms of levels and percentages of giving. We also do not yet do the quality job we need to do, and plan to do, in career services. These are both consistent with the rankings, but we were already aware of them.

I think that Emory Law School has been hiding its light under a bushel for a while. One thing that’s exciting is that as we have become more intentional about our marketing strategies we are receiving very positive responses. We have not in the past devoted significant resources to marketing and branding our school, or to alumni relations. We are now devoting significant resources, time, and energy into communicating with our students and alumni in ways we never have before. It is my goal to meet with all of our students on a regular basis, and meet with our alumni in cities across the country. The purpose of this is not fundraising; this is first and foremost to build relationships. I’m asking all faculty, whenever they are on the road at a conference, to be willing to meet with alumni in our new “Faculty Ambassadors Program.”